Urban Wasteland

I live in an area of town called ‘Atlantic Station’ [“Forward Living!”] which is a neighborhood reclaimed from a fallow industrial locality around the original Amtrak station. There is still a rudimentary station behind there somewhere, you can see glimpses of the track and on a cold night you might hear the train whistling loudly to keep the train bogeyman away.

Yesterday, I decided to see if there was a way to get onto the tracks and see what it is like around there. i never have spent any time in the last couple of years [almost] here in the US trying to explore places around town, especially ones that have fences and clearly discourage exploring. After going around all of Atlantic Station trying to find a way in and finding that all the areas were either properly fenced in or choked with inaccessible shrubbery, I had almost given up when I saw a part of the fence under a bridge had given way. Up I went, and there I was, on the tracks. Nothing much different from the train tracks I had seen before [I did not know what difference I expected to see…] except for one striking thing. The fence had rendered this whole area completely devoid, uninhabited. Totes sketch.

The title of this post is a little misleading. It was not a complete wasteland. After all it is used by the trains to commute at least twice a day. The wasteland refers to a complete absence of humans, or even traces of living in. No trash, just a uniform base of the typical rock you find only near tracks. These rocks were interspersed with small bits of leftover iron pieces, oddly shaped. Maybe broken off pieces from the things used to hold the tracks in place.

While one side of the tracks is Atlantic Station, the other side has not been gentrified and still bears the half rotten carcasses of old old warehouses. Some of them still trying to function, I saw cars in the parking lots so I must say half dead, not all carcass. There was a fence on that side too, there wasn’t much exploring I could do there either. After walking for a couple of hundred yards towards the station I saw that one warehouse had neglected to erect a fence, relying instead on fickle shrubbery that left copious gaps. I turned around to see if I could see any traces of humanity, and all I saw was one guy walking down the tracks, in the opposite direction from me, far off in the distance behind me. Nothing in front, nothing near the warehouse. I walked towards it.

The doors were nailed shut, and all I had access to was the loading dock on this end. There was an oddly domestic scene here. A circle of cinder blocks around a fairly new and expensive looking electric air heater, the cord to which was lying on the ground with no outlet in sight. On one corner of the dock was a nice little portable barbecue grill. There was what looked like a clothes-line; without any clothes there though. The whole place was dusty, didn’t look like it had been used in a while, still fairly cleaner than the surroundings. I didn’t touch anything to see if it was working, it felt like a violation of privacy.

Moving on, I kept walking towards the station. I still couldn’t see it around the bend but I was sure it was in that direction, just under a mile away. When I reached the end of Atlantic station on one side I saw another abandoned looking mill on that side, this one again with access, no fence. It was a lumber yard: sprawling, old, rusted. Didn’t see many signs of people around, except a few clothes drying on some lines, but there were some new-ish looking keep out signs, and I didn’t push my luck. Moved onwards on the tracks.

After about 40 minutes of seeing the man behind me going off in the other direction, I saw my first human, as the station came into view. There was guy on a golf cart, lugging a few old timey carts full of luggage. This was the first time I felt that somehow they would ask me leave. but the guy just cautioned me, Be careful! the train is coming soon… He was least bothered by my presence. Emboldened, I walked down the station. Very unlike the raised platforms of India, these platforms are flush on the ground, just a tiny sliver of paved tar between the tracks. A lonely sign timidly proclaimed ATLANTA, with two arrows in opposite directions showing WASHINGTON DC on one side and NEW ORLEANS on another. I could see a portly guy in a suit hurrying towards me, gesticulating mildly. Very reminiscent of the navy blazer clad station masters in India. He asked me if I was supposed to be there… You gonna get me fired man! this is federal property, Its a federal crime to be here without authorization! I told him I was lost, What was the closest way to get off the tracks? He looked incredulous, and his sharp mind went to the obvious flaw in my story in a flash, How did you get lost! you didn’t realize you were walking between tracks? A veritable Sherlock.  So he asks the luggage guy, how did I get past him? The luggage guy gave him a very practiced not-my-job look. I had already scoped out an alternate quick exit on my way over, and I said I can just go down to that street over there, its just down a hill. I guess he was just relieved I would get off the property. Down the hill I went, onto the road, circled back up to the railway line near my house, crossed over instantly went from being a near felon to a respectable citizen of a gentrified locality.

The isolation and sort of preserved desolation of the tracks and the surrounding areas was not that fascinating but was indeed very interesting in a way. There must so many areas like this through out the country where people aren’t allowed to enter, and it is in the middle of the city, abandoned. Nobody knows of it nobody wants to and nobody probably can. Nothing much grows there, nothing much lives. Just emptiness, punctuated by the occasional train whistle.

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